Can Your Employer Spy on You at Home?

After weeks of job searching, Karina is thrilled to start her new job at the Polygon Group, an El Segundo technology company specializing in AI. On her first day at work, while she is filling out her employment contract, Karina notices something odd. Her employer wants her to agree to digital monitoring. This means that her work computer and work telephone will have tracking software installed. Karina feels uncomfortable. Can her employer legally spy on her?

By: Brad Nakase, Attorney

Email  |  Call 888-600-8654

While the work-from-home age has granted employees more freedom and flexible schedules, the rise of remote work has also led to a greater use of electronic monitoring software. To maintain productivity, employers have begun to spy on their workers by tracking their activity.

How do they accomplish this? Through the following methods:

  • Tracking keystrokes
  • Taking screenshots of employees’ computers
  • Accessing web cameras

In the past, it has been normal and acceptable for employers to access workers’ company computers and phones for security reasons. But as the work landscape changes, questions have arisen related to the legality of employer “spyware.”

How Do You Know If a Company is Spying on You?

The bottom line is that it is difficult, if not impossible, for an employee to know whether his or her employer is monitoring digital activity.

Legally, an employer is allowed to create workplace rules and regulations. These can be very broad in scope. When it comes to monitoring software, employers have the right to track workers’ behavior, but they must inform employees of the right to do so. However, employers are not required to inform employees of what software they are using or what kind of information they are collecting.

Often, monitoring software is difficult to detect and remove. You might not even know that it’s there.

So, to look back at our example, Karina’s employer Polygon is allowed to digitally monitor her. They do not have to tell her what software they are using or what they are tracking. They might be watching Karina’s keystrokes, and she would never know about it. Under current laws, this is all legal.

Do You Have a Right to Privacy on Personal Devices?

When it comes to using company devices, such as computer and phones, employees currently have no right to privacy.

It’s true that an employer must inform an employee if he or she is being monitored. While the employer must provide this knowledge, an employee has no real ability to decline.

Let’s look at an example:

When Fabio starts his new job at New Horizons, a political think tank, his employer informs him that the company uses monitoring software on their issued laptops. Fabio tells his employer that he’s not comfortable with the company tracking his productivity. His boss orders him to download the software onto his laptop, or he’s fired.

Sound unfair?

Well, according to the law, New Horizons is well within its rights to fire Fabio for not downloading the software.

How Can You Protect Your Privacy?

 As an employee, it is important to keep your company devices and your personal devices separate. Some people might feel more comfortable working on their personal computers or phones, but this opens the door to being spied on by your employer.

Also, when working on company devices, it is good practice to assume everything you do on the computer and phone is not private. This includes what you do on the company email, Slack, and Zoom.

Caution is best!

How Are Workplace Privacy Laws Changing?

Currently, the California Consumer Protection Act requires businesses to be transparent about the information they’re collecting on customers, how they get it, and how they plan to use it. But that only concerns the right of customers. When it comes to employees, employers have been protected from providing this information to their workers. However, that protection expires in 2023, so there may be changes coming.

Workers’ rights advocates are also pushing for employers to be required by law to tell employees when electronic monitoring is being used. Specifically, they want employers to clarify when monitoring occurs, what kind of monitoring it is, and the purpose for the monitoring.

We want to hear your story.

5 + 2 = ?

Retaliation for Reporting Harassment at Work

An employer who punishes an employee who reported sexual harassment in the workplace violates state and federal law and is liable for retaliation. Examples of retaliation include demotion, fewer working hours, segregation, or termination.

Obscene and Sexual Gestures a Work

We're not talking about the ubiquitous middle finger that says fuck you. Obscene and sexual gestures at work may include two fingers in a V shape, with a tongue in between. 

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

One of the most common types of sexual harassment is Quid pro quo sexual harassment, and it is one of the easiest to hide. All types of workplace sexual harassment are illegal.

Reporting Time Pay

Wages are what we mean when we use the term "reporting time pay." If employers do not pay all of this at the moment of an employee being terminated, there may be waiting time penalties involved.

Can I Sue My Employer For Not Paying Me Correctly?

Employees work hard and deserve to be paid correctly, and on time. It sucks when an employee works hard, and long hours only to be paid incorrectly while the boss is driving a Lambo or Benz.

8 FAQ Answer: Employees Must Know About Wrongful Termination

If an employee believes that he or she has been unlawfully fired from their job, he or she may file a wrongful termination claim in court. These claims are based on the alleged breaking of federal or state anti-discrimination law, employment contracts, or labor laws.

What Are the Signs of a Toxic Coworker?

The 8 identifying traits of of a toxic coworker are: 1. The toxic coworker is often sarcastic. 2. The toxic coworker often insults and mock others. 3. The toxic coworker is selfish...

Two-Week Notice Letter: 9 Tips and 2 Templates

If an employee decides to resign from his or her job, it is normal and expected to provide their employer with two weeks’ notice. Regardless of why a person is leaving their job, it is considered professional to give their employer enough time to make plans to cover the absence.

Do guys get paid paternity leave?

A father is eligible for paternity leave if three conditions are met: 1) welcome a new child within the first twelve months; 2) Paid into the State Disability Insurance; 3) Has not taken more than eight weeks of paternity leave in the past twelve months.

6 Things to Know About At-Will Employment

“At-will” means that an employer can fire an employee for any reason at any time without getting into legal trouble. The exception is that the reason cannot be illegal in nature.

7 Things Women Should Know About Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is an umbrella term covering many forms of unwelcome verbal and physical sexual attention. Sexual assault, meanwhile, is physical sexual contact or behavior that happens without the consent of the victim.

How Long Is Maternity Leave in California?

Under California law, companies with at least five employees must provide new parents with 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Similarly, companies with at least five employees must also grant up to four months of unpaid pregnancy-disability leave to workers who are unable to work due to pregnancy or childbirth.

10 Tips on California Law Expense Reimbursement Time Limit

Under California labor law, employers are required to reimburse employees for business expenses made during the course of their employment, so long as they are necessary and reasonable in nature. This means that an employer must pay an employee back for any financial losses the employee accepted as part of doing his or her job.

What are the 4 Caregiver rights in California?

Employers often face lawsuits from caregivers for violating caregivers’ rights, such as basic wages. A caregiver is an individual who has taken on the role of both care provider and advocate.

How to Find an Employment Lawyer

Often referred to as work lawyers, employment lawyers are attorneys who specialize in employment law and represent workers in all positions across many industries. In California, employment lawyers understand workers’ rights according to the state’s labor laws and can help wronged employees sue and seek damages for improper or unlawful treatment at a workplace.

6 Tips for Prorated Vacation

Employees can earn time off according to different methods, which are normally specified in an employee handbook. Some employers choose to have employees accrue vacation time based on hours worked.

© Copyright | Nakase Law Firm (2019)